With a General Election around the corner, Dion Davis examines the increasing popularity of Independent TDs.
Independent TDs have been around for decades, however in recent months their popularity has often overshadowed the main political parties. Twenty-eight TDs in the current Dáil are Independent or Others; this leap from the last election is set to increase again. The rise of a left wing culture and Independent TDs is instilling fear and worry throughout the Dáil chambers, as the possibility of an unstable government could be on the horizon.
Deputy Mick Wallace and Ming Flanagan MEP are among the familiar faces of Independents. The Healy-Raes and Paul Murphy might render familiarity for others. The Government are failing to win over voters and with promises to abolish water charges and reduce Income Tax; the public’s views are swaying towards these differing views.
Independent TDs have been topping the polls in recent months, with the latest result from Millward Brown leaving them at 24% – on par with Fine Gael. Distrust and disinterest for the current government is working in their favour, as they have no affiliations or strings attached. They hold no allegiance to the treaty or anti-treaty sides that two of the main political parties emerged from, nor do they have any past participation in the Troubles. These candidates are solely off their own back.
We have seen the popularity of many Independents rise considerably as a result of the Marriage Equality Referendum, with Senator David Norris and Senator Katherine Zappone at the forefront of the fight for human rights. Both Senators were praised in the media for their courage and opinions. Every party proclaimed that they supported this referendum, however few TDs and Senators released their personal views on the matter, as they were afraid they would lose voters in the upcoming election.
Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, Enda Kenny said that a government formed of Independent TDs would be “a political freak show, a government free-for-all, where it’s none for all and all for none.” Kenny’s words resonated with the attendees at Glenties in Co. Donegal.
Renua launched on the 13th of March this year with a familiar face in the leading seat. Lucinda Creighton, ex- Fine Gael TD took it upon herself to set up a new party formed of Independent TDs to contest the next General Election. The party was off to a great start with a euphoric Creighton putting Renua on the political map; introducing us to their party president, Eddie Hobbs. This was the calm before the storm; party spokesman Terence Flanagan appeared days later on RTE’s Drivetime to speak about the party’s policies, those who tuned in recalled it as a “car crash” interview as he was unable to answer any of the questions.
Since then, Renua has faced backlash from the media on the party’s differing views during the Marriage Equality Referendum and two of their general election candidates pulling out in recent weeks. The silver lining in the scenario was that Creighton’s actions encouraged other TDs to be brave and consider setting up their own parties.
Other Independent TDs were praised this year for their courageous actions in the Dáil and their initiative to go beyond their normal duties. Deputy Catherine Murphy was at the centre of a political storm in the media. For those of you that nipped away for a holiday, or didn’t look at the news for a few weeks, she caused quite a ruckus. Deputy Murphy used her Parliamentary/Dáil Privilege during the Siteserv on-goings linked to Denis O’Brien who has since been in the headlines regarding the case. She exposed the favouritism given to O’Brien in the purchase of Siteserv, yet freedom of speech and the press were questioned thoroughly in the ordeal. Catherine Murphy was praised for her bold move in the Dáil Chambers and it encouraged various voters to change their views and turn to Independent TDs.
In recent months the formation of another new political party dominated headlines in the national papers. As a result of three independent TDs coming together; the Social Democrats appeared onto the political scene on the 15th of July. The party stems from the ideals of three major Independent TD’s; Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall. “Openness, Equality and Progress” are the pillars that the party was established on. The trio will share leadership until a new leader is elected after the general election. On their newly designed website you can find a statement from the three reputable TDs to entice voters near the new party; “We believe in an Ireland where high-quality public services, strong communities and a thriving economy combine to create a society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. Together, we can make this a reality.”
Can they make it a reality? Will they gain seats or even power in the next election? Only time will tell as a myriad of new parties will form in the coming weeks. There is already talks of Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit merging to form a new party in an attempt to gain more seats and voters.
If the polls are anything to go by (which they certainly weren’t in the UK Election) then we can expect a new phenomenon; a Dáil of independents, a majority of independently minded people and policies – arguably an instability in the politics of the state. Our economy might be on the threads of recovery, but our Dáil could be about to be enter the storm.